I may have recently taken by first UberX ride, but I can assure you I've never done anything as stupid as this.
My recent blog post
about my first Uber (X) ride drew the expected agitated responses from some of the more feverish industry voices.
For those who don’t want to read it, in a nutshell: I waited patiently the morning of Oct. 26 for a metro bus to take me to work from a location near an auto repair shop where I’d dropped off my car. The bus didn’t show up. I needed to be at work at 9 a.m. So I got sweaty and desperate and hit the Uber app for the first time while standing in a Jack-In-The-Box parking lot. I figured I’m 6-foot, 2-inches tall with more stamina and strength than many flabby Millennials, so UberX drivers don’t really scare me.
If it's any consolation, I will be trying out the Blacklane, AsterRide and iCars apps in coming weeks, which I understand make use of fully vetted, licensed chauffeurs and drivers. But on that morning, I was like many other travelers who’ve tapped Uber in a pinch, both sober and drunk, including stakeholders in the limousine industry. (Don't worry, I won't out anyone's secret indiscretions, unless I suddenly get that Tourrette'sh--).
After feeling just a smidgeon of the guilt larded up from anti-Uber purists, I got over it quickly when I encountered a few revelatory articles about using Uber:
Commuters Use TNCs To Fill Public Transit Gaps
Austin Cab Drivers Fail Background Checks
Bernie, Hillary Campaigns Use Uber
Here are some facts and questions to consider, however difficult or unpleasant they may be.
- If pro-labor anti-Uber politicians Bernie and Hillary are allowing TNCs to be used in their campaigns, it only underscores how TNCs provide a convenient transportation service too irresistable for millions of riders worldwide. The technology and the concept are here to stay, never to be regulated out of existence. So traditional ground transportation should find ways to compete and outsmart TNCs while fighting to equalize safety practices, background checks and insurance coverage.
- I personally know of reputable, legal limousine operators who work with Uber Black to fill in downtime, or who have used Uber for personal trips, or have young adult kids who do. That will likely subside to an extent if a genuine limo industry app brings new client opportunities on a wide scale.
- UberBlack is not the main regulatory threat. It consists mostly of operators or licensed independents. Even Uber critics I've talked to concede that. But the lower-tier UberX is the main source of controversy, given troubling questions about background checks, safety, and insurance coverage. States and cities are still trying to figure all that out with varying outcomes.
- All of this angst over TNCs will vanish someday if court decisions favor classifying Uber drivers as employees and clarifying standards on contractors. That would level the playing field much to everyone's relief.
Now, for some questions:
- Why do so many people continue to use Uber and TNCs despite all the bad publicity about criminal drivers and incidents involving passengers?
- Why are employees asking their companies for the option to use Uber when traveling on company business?
- Why didn’t the on-demand app concept for ground transportation arise within existing, traditional ground transportation services? Why was Uber instead invented by a cocky young entrepreneur down on his luck and living in his parents’ house? (Maybe that answers itself).
- Six years after the launch of Uber, why isn’t there a widely available limo or taxi app commonly available on the streets of most major cities?
- Why does U.S. public transit still suck overall and remain chronically unable to break even on a P&L?
- Why are pricier all-suite hotels thriving despite cheaper options with bouncier mattresses like Motel 6 and Super 8?
- Does Selena Gomez use the UberPool?
OK, enough questions.
If hotels can do it, so can chauffeured car and taxi: Upgrade the cheap option. Take the on-demand tech or faster reservation equivalent, charge enough to make desired profit, and then do it better — if indeed on-demand fits your business model. Regardless, always provide specific and superior customer service targeted toward your clients. The last time I stayed in a hotel, it was a Marriott Extended Stay, not a Super 8 down the street. Although, if it had been 11 p.m. and no vacancies at my first choice hotels, I would have stayed at the Super 8, as I did years ago as a college student when I needed a cheap room at 2 a.m.
I’m not going to become a regular Uber user, nor do I endorse them. The next time I’m stuck needing a ride, I’ll use one of the above on-demand limo or taxi apps in L.A. If they have live cars waiting minutes away, I'll tap the app. If you’ve ridden with a good rival app to Uber, please email me about your experience at [email protected] or just post it below.
Risks and rewards, after all, are meant to be calculated.
Separating hype from human reality will challenge even the smartest driverless technology experts.
The more casual and coarse society gets, the more chauffeured service can gleam with a counter-couture-culture.
As the dates for autonomous milestones move up, motorists retain a healthy skepticism of self-driving vehicles.
Opposite sides rage against the ride app machine: When do you consider an app legit?
What happens when the big buses are chauffeured, while more sedans to the airport are driven?